Customize Your Oatmeal, Soda, or Biscuits 'n' Gravy: Convenience Store Trends

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Last week, the National Association of Convenience Stores (NACS) held its annual trade show in Atlanta. There are 144,541 convenience stores in the U.S (one for every 2,100 people), and the NACS show is one of the largest in the nation. It draws more than 23,000 attendees. Short Order spent a day walking the 1-million-square-foot expo to find out some trends for 2011. The main areas were consumer-experience customization, enhancement, and adrenaline eating.

Like computer and phone makers, the food and beverage industry is giving customers the opportunity to customize. The soda dispenser was the first foray into this arena years ago, allowing buyers to choose their soda. Select one flavor, mix two, or -- our favorite -- make a "suicide," which includes a bit of everything in the machine. Other players have jumped on the bandwagon, and there is now equipment for everything from oatmeal and biscuits 'n' gravy to ice cream, milk shakes, and smoothies.

Life enhancement continues to be a big trend, be it enhancing your sleep, dreams, energy level, or sex life. There seems to be a beverage or food supplement to make sure every aspect of your life gets the assistance it needs to maximize the experience.

The third trend we saw was toward adrenaline eating. Excessively spicy or sour snack items that get your adrenaline glands going and make you sweat profusely or pucker up like a fish were all the rage. Beef jerky was available in hot, hotter, and hottest, to the point where Slim Jim was offering a free T-shirt to those who braved eating all three levels at the company's booth. The hottest -- spicy habanero -- was so hot that the T-shirt was necessary for wiping sweat and shoving into one's mouth to try to numb the burning sensation.

The question is always: Which trend will stick? Only time will tell.

In the next couple of weeks, Short Order will feature some of the new products as well as local entrepreneurs who are making a name for themselves in this competitive business.

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